CALGARY- Katie Gerke was just 24 when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
“I got off a stationary bike at the end of my workout, and my leg just gave out,” Gerke recalls.
At first her symptoms came and went, but like many patients with Relapsing Remitting MS, Gerke’s disease progressed to a condition known as Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis.
“With progressive MS, it’s a constant decline, so you don’t really see that person getting better, you basically see that person gradually getting worse,” Gerke explains from a wheelchair. She now lives in a long term care facility and is no longer able to use her arms and legs.
According to Calgary MS researchers, there are few therapies available for patients with either primary or secondary progressive MS.
“We don’t have a disease modifying treatment, so we don’t have therapies that will slow down this progression,” Dr. Marcus Koch explains.
Koch hopes to help change that. The University of Calgary researcher is part of a multi-disciplinary team that plans to launch a new clinical trial involving progressive MS patients. The goal is to find out if drugs currently being used to treat other conditions like Parkinson’s disease can be helpful in the treatment of progressive MS as well.
“We can come up with a list of 10 or so treatments where there is evidence to suggest they might be helpful,” Koch explains. “We just have no good way to screen through them to identify the ones that are most promising.”
The team plans to enroll 50 patients in early stages of progressive MS starting sometime next year. The trial is one of two clinical trials planned for next year, made possible by a recent $5 million grant from Alberta Innovates Health Solutions.